Sermon for the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2018)

Sermon for the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple (2018) - Holy Cross Monastery
+ Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Saviour, save us. Amen.

Sometime ago, I read an article by a prominent Orthodox bishop who claimed that, historically, the Entry of the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies could not have taken place. He said that Jewish law forbade anyone to enter the Holy of Holies except the High Priest, and him only once a year. He also said that it would have been even more impossible for a woman to enter into the Holy of Holies; Jewish law prohibited this. (It is true that Jewish law did forbid this, but actually many of the major events in the Gospel would also fall under the prohibition of Jewish law.) This critical approach to faith, contrary to what you might think, is not new. From the Virgin Birth to the Resurrection of Christ, our Orthodox Faith has always fallen under the critical eye of those who think in a worldly way. Some of Our Saviour’s own disciples fell away because they could not believe that He could give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink in Holy Communion. From the very beginning, the Church has had a long history of fighting heresies and proclaiming the truth. But today this critical approach has become very widespread and even dominant in many mainline churches.

True Christianity is a mystical religion filled with miraculous events. Think of the great mystery of the invisible God taking on flesh and walking among us, think of the appearance of the Holy Trinity at the Baptism of Christ, the divine light that shone from Christ at His Transfiguration, His glorious Ascension into heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire upon the Apostles. All of these events, so fundamental to our salvation, defy space and time and all the laws of nature. And remember that Our Saviour also said. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father.” (John 14:12-14) Dear brothers and sisters, the miraculous events of the Gospel are certainly not the end of salvation history. The history of Christ’s Holy Church is a history of miracles, of God acting in the world, acting in our lives, healing incurable illnesses and resolving impossible problems. Think of the miraculous Myrrh-Streaming Icon of the Theotokos that just visited the Monastery on Pilgrimage Weekend. If we limit the activity of God to only what we can prove or understand then we are limiting God’s omnipotent power and restraining his infinite mercy. We are turning our backs on God, turning our backs on all of the Holy Scriptures and the tradition of the Church. To reduce our faith to what can only be proven historically and physically would be to alter it so fundamentally that it would no longer bear any resemblance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the experience of the Church.

The word miracle is defined in a secular way by the dictionary thus: “A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” So often, modern man is tempted to disassemble true Christianity and to create something that is more palatable for those with weak faith: something so bland that it can be easily adapted to any life style, so undemanding that personal morality becomes irrelevant, and so unchallenging that no one is made to feel uncomfortable. But today, dear brothers and sisters, we gather here to celebrate one of these extraordinary events, one of these great miracles that clearly defies the Jewish Law and goes against history: the Great Feast of the Entry of the Holy Theotokos into The Temple. Today we commemorate the day that the Holy Virgin Mary as a three-year-old child was brought to the Temple to the Holy of Holies, to be reared far away from the noise and distractions of the world. There in the House of God she was nourished by the sacred presence of God in His holy Sanctuary.

In the Old Testament, God was hidden from His people behind the veils of the Holy of Holies. No one was ever allowed to see Him or to enter His presence; only the High Priest, and then only once a year. With the Entry of the young Virgin Mary into the Temple all of this begins to change radically. God is changing the Jewish Law and becoming visible and approachable. The Holy Theotokos was raised in the Holy of Holies, and after nine years when she departed the Temple God dwelt with her. And in only a few years after her departure from the Temple she would become herself the living Temple of God, the Gate through which Christ Himself would enter this world. She would bring forth the Eternal Word, Jesus Christ Himself. The invisible and unapproachable God hidden in the Holy of Holies would not only become visible to His people and to all creation but become a man and walk among us. Through the Theotokos, God enters this world and dwells among us. He is no longer hidden from us.

When the Holy Virgin enters the Holy of Holies, it is the beginning of a new covenant between God and man, the end of the many centuries of man’s alienation from God, and the end of our bondage to sin. We also, you might say, like the Theotokos, have been brought here to this holy temple to be protected from the noise and distractions of the world. Here in this quiet, remote holler of West Virginia we have been placed by God, so that we too, like the Theotokos, can grow spiritually. Here in this monastery, in our little holler on this little mountain, we have been planted. Here under the watchful eye of the Mother of God, we are nourished with spiritual food and protected from the distractions of our world.

She dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the presence of God. She grew up in His presence and remained in His presence for the rest of her life even after leaving the Temple. In celebrating this feast, this particular feast which is the patronal feast of our holler, we too are called to dwell always in His presence. But how sad that we who are called to dwell in His presence here in this holy temple so often choose to ignore God. We stand here in His presence, in this Holy of Holies just like Mary did, but we choose to daydream and imagine that we are somewhere else. Here in this holy temple during the sacred and Divine Liturgy, when heaven and earth meet, when Christ Himself comes down upon our altar to dwell within us, we choose to look away. We so often freely choose the trivial over the sublime.

When we look at the holy face of the Mother of God in the icons, we see a woman, a human being just like us, but one who is filled with peace, because she chose not to look away but to keep her gaze always fixed on Him. No matter what happened in her life, she did not look away from Him. This is the source of her deep inner peace that is undisturbed by the turmoil of this world.

On this holy and miraculous day, may we have the faith to enter with her into the presence of God and remain there forever. Amen.

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